Part of it, I think, is that the very things many criticize in this tale are what make it so memorable. Its protagonist, Ralibar Vooz, is "high magistrate of Commoriom and third cousin to King Homquat," who goes forth to hunt subhuman creatures called Voormis
with six-and-twenty of his most valorous retainers in quest of such game as was afforded by the black Eiglophian Mountains. Leaving to lesser sportsmen the great sloths and vampire-bats of the intermediate jungle, as well as the small but noxious dinosuaria, Ralibar Vooz and his followers had pushed rapidly ahead and had covered the distance between the Hyperborean capital and their objective in a day's march.While on his hunting expedition, he inadvertently interrupts "a most promising and important evocation" being cast by a sorcerer known as Ezdagor, who rebukes him as a "lumbering, bawling idiot." The haughty nobleman, of course, will tolerate no such imprecations.
"How now, varlet!" said Ralibar Vooz, astonished and angered by this greeting, of which he understood little save that his presence was unwelcome by the old man. "Who are you that speak so churlishly to a magistrate of Commoriom and a cousin to King Homquat? I advise you to curb such insolence; for, if so I wish, it lies within my power to serve you even as I serve the Voormis. Though methinks," he added, "your pelt is far too filthy and verminous to merit room amid my trophies of the chase."And with those words, Ralibar Vooz is compelled against his will to journey into the depths beneath Mt. Voormithadreth, in the company of Ezdagor's bird familiar, Raphtontis, as a blood-offering to the Old One, Tsathoggua, in punishment for his actions against the sorcerer. But when Ralibar Vooz at last reaches the lair of Tsathoggua, after much trial, the Old Ones says,
"Know that I am the sorcerer Ezdagor," proclaimed the ancient, his voice echoing amid the rocks with dreadful sonority. "By choice I have lived remote from cities and men; nor have the Voormis of the mountain troubled me in my magical seclusion. I care not if you are the magistrate of all swinedom or a cousin to the king of dogs. In retribution for the charm you have shattered, the business you have undone by oafish trespass, I shall put upon you a most dire and calamitous and bitter geas."
"Thanks are due to Ezdagor for this offering. But, since I have fed lately on a well-blooded sacrifice, my hunger is appeased for the present, and I require not the offering. However, it may well be that the others of the Old Ones are athirst and famished. And, since you came here with a geas upon you, it is not fitting that you should go hence without another. So I place you under this geas, to betake yourself downward through the caverns till you reach, after long descent, that bottomless gulf over which the spider-god Atlach-Nacha weaves his eternal webs.As one might guess from the short story's title, Atlach-Nacha has no use for Ralibar Vooz either and in turns places yet another geas on him, sending him to Haon-Dor, who likewise has no use for him ...
"The Seven Geases" comes across a tragicomic travelog of the non-human horrors and wonders that exist beneath the Eoglophian Mountains, in which humanity, as represented by Ralibar Vooz, is merely an afterthought, a mere distraction rather than the prime mover of all that transpires. In this respect, there's a clear affinity with H.P. Lovecraft's otherworldly creations, who likewise take little notice of Man. Of course, Smith's treatment of these entities is quite different, seeming at once more and less intelligible than HPL's presentation. For example, Smith's creations employ the same cultured, if often circuitous, language as the Rabelaisian human beings that populate Hyperborea in great quantities, even if their motivations are every bit as alien as those in Lovecraft.
For gamers, "The Seven Geases" is filled with creatures and gods to inspire and delight. It's little wonder that so many of the entries in Call of Cthulhu's bestiary are drawn from this story. Indeed, it was in that venerable RPG that I first came across references to "The Seven Geases" and sought it out. I assumed that any story that included so many different -- and bizarre -- beings had to be well worth my time to read. And so it is. At the same time, it's an easy story to dislike, especially given that its ending is "the written equivalent of a rim-shot punctuating a stand-up comedian’s bad joke."
And yet I'd argue that this is a serious work rather than a (purely) comedic one; its humor is of a black sort and intended to highlight the insignificance of humanity in the cosmic scheme rather than to mitigate it. In this respect, "The Seven Geases" is one of the more genuinely "Lovecraftian" stories Smith ever wrote, even if it doesn't seem so on one's first read-through. It's certainly not one Lovecraft himself could ever have written, given the whimsy that punctuates its black humor and eldritch horrors. Perhaps for that very reason it's one of Smith's best efforts and an excellent exemplar of his own unique approach to the cosmicism for which Lovecraft is better known.
Oh yes: it's pronounced, roughly, "gesh" -- easily one of the most often mispronounced words among lovers of fantasy.